Women’s business takes repurposing to a new level
By Lynne P. Shackleford
Photographs by Michael Griffin Jr.
Vintage Warehouse owners Jane Crook and Carmen Blanton have made a business of transforming thrift store furniture pieces and roadside throwaways into one-of-a-kind reclaimed showpieces.
The two friends share a love of painting, adding fabric to and taking apart and rebuilding antique and junk furniture.
“There are very few things I’ll walk away from if it has good bones and it’s in my budget,” Crook said. “I’ll look at the legs, and if they’re good, I know we can make it into an entirely different piece no matter what the top looks like.”
When they started their business in 2014, the partners had two goals: have fun and break all the traditional rules about using antique furniture in a home.
“That doesn’t sound like two business partners talking, but we honestly wanted to do what we loved and had no idea whether it would work or not,” Blanton said. “Thank goodness it did because we certainly have fun.”
Their spacious 5,000-square-foot store on South Pine Street is full of unique finds, like a cool bar made from 125-year-old barn wood from an old textile mill in Glendale, two 6-paneled doors, and a tractor hood with a light inside. In another corner of the store is a piano bar — a piano with the insides gutted and redesigned with a glass top above the keyboard and wine storage underneath.
“It’s great because we’re doing what we’ve always wanted to do, and people seem to have a certain appreciation for it,” Blanton said.
Crook and Blanton are artisans, working with mostly paint and fabric, who have recently partnered with Greg Whisnant and Darrell Griggs, two craftsmen with carpentry experience, to increase their offerings.
“The four of us work together, and we’re more creative,” Crook said. “The bar is a good example of us all working together to create a great, unique piece from scraps.”
Blanton and Crook have been artists for as long as each of them can remember. Crook remembers as a child, maybe 6 or 7, rearranging her room with self-made art for her walls. Blanton can recall begging her parents to let her completely redesign her bedroom when they were renovating their home many years ago.
The women spent their careers in the classroom — Blanton as a high school teacher and Crook as the owner of a daycare center. In their spare time, they sold their wares in booths and to friends. They met a couple of years ago.
“The last thing Jane said to me when we first met was, ‘If you ever want to go into business together, give me a call,’ and I remember thinking we could never do it,” Blanton said. “But, we’ve sort of done a good job of proving ourselves wrong.”
They started out in a warehouse but moved to South Pine Street almost two years ago.
“We had a business goal for the first year, and we made it,” Crook said. “We knew all along this was a leap of faith, but our customers have been so faithful, and we’ve been able to expand our booths… we’re really proud.”
Vintage Warehouse is more than a story about two ladies who had a similarly aligned vision. They also wanted a place where artisans could sell their work and collaborate. Vintage Warehouse offers Kris Neely’s guardian angel art, gifts from the Green Zinnia and Danielle Kamanski, the “Crafty Wino” who makes candles from wine bottles and jewelry from crochet and wire, among others.
“That’s what’s so great about what Jane and Carmen have,” said Bliss Harley, Vintage Warehouse’s first and one of their most loyal customers. “You can find furniture, a rug, jewelry, unique signs and candles — whatever you’re looking for, you can find it there.”
Harley remembers knocking on the door of the not-yet-opened Vintage Warehouse and meeting Crook and Blanton, who were working on upfits to the building.
“I was looking for a vase for a flower arrangement, and even though they weren’t open, they were gracious enough to let me in,” Harley said. “I fell in love with them that day and would go back about every weekend. They have assembled the most creative minds — Jane and Carmen and now with Greg and Darrell, they have wonderful finds under that roof.”
For Crook, the beauty of the business is working on a piece of furniture and still being able to sell it to a college student, or a young couple, at a reasonable price.
“You know, everyone deserves to have unique pieces in their home without spending a fortune,” Crook said. “For us, it’s seeing pieces that we love and that we put work into go to someone who equally loves it and says, ‘That’s exactly what I was looking for. I just didn’t know it.’”